Article Comment 

Study reveals chronic absenteeism in Miss. schools



Andrew Hazzard



Eighty percent of success is showing up, the saying goes. For 74,299 public school students in Mississippi -- 15 percent of kindergarten through 12th grade students -- that isn't happening.  


A study released this week by Mississippi Kid's Count analyzed the chronic absentee rate, defined as missing 10 percent or more of the school year, and found large numbers of Mississippi students were not getting the education they need. The report states that missing three or more days of school per month can set the average student back one to two full academic years.  


Schools in the Golden Triangle mirror the state average of 15 percent. In the 2013-2014 school year, 17.5 percent of Columbus Municipal School District students missed over ten percent of school. Lowndes County Schools posted better numbers, with 11.8 percent of students falling in the chronically absent range.  


Starkville School District had a 17.6 percent chronic absent rate; Oktibbeha County Schools hit right on the state average with 15 percent.  


West Point School District posted the highest chronic absent rate in the area, with 19.9 percent of students missing 10 percent of school. Clay County Schools had a 15.8 percent chronic absent rate.  




Interpreting the data 


Determining which schools and what students are prone to being chronically absent does not fall into one particular pattern, said Anne Buffington, the lead author of the report.  


"We are just getting in to this type of research," Buffington told The Dispatch Thursday.  


Mississippi is one of six states currently studying chronic absenteeism. School districts nationwide measure average daily attendance (ADA) in accordance with the No Child Left Behind Act. Buffington said the problem with ADA is that it does not identify individual students who are falling through the cracks.  


"When you look at ADA, it sort of masks the real problem," Buffington said. "All of our districts in Mississippi are over 90 percent (in ADA)." 


She said by breaking attendance down by chronic absenteeism, districts can better address the real problem. 




Tracking the numbers 


This issue came up at last month's CMSD board meeting, when board of trustees president Angela Verdell requested a way to track students who are missing a great deal of school. The district has posted ADA numbers around its goal of 95 percent throughout the school year, taking a hit in December when ADA dropped to 92.71 percent district wide.  


Buffington noted those suffering from chronic absenteeism come at the youngest and oldest ages. The report found that 14 percent of kindergartners were chronically absent. Numbers drop through middle school, and begin to sharply rise toward the end of high school. In the 2013-2014 school year, 36 percent of high school seniors missed over 10 percent of the school year.  


By demographic, white female students are the most likely to be chronically absent; 17.7 percent of white girls missed over 10 percent of school statewide. 


Districts rich and poor were affected by chronic absenteeism. "A" rated districts had a 13.4 percent chronic absent rate; "D" and "F" rated districts averaged 16.4 percent.  


In the early stages of research, Buffington said it is hard to know what to make of these findings or to discover what the trends are, but said it is important to make people aware. 


"If this report can bring awareness to administrators, policy makers and parents, then that's the goal," she said. "It's not meant to point fingers at anyone, it's meant to get the information out there."




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